The Merchant’s Great Room is undoubtedly one of Northern Ireland’s most extraordinary restaurants with its remarkable, original Victorian interior, thoughtfully prepared menus and first class service.
A dining experience here will start not when your food is served but as you walk up the grand stone staircase of the listed building, through the revolving doors and into the opulent surroundings that have been decorated in crimson, gold, black and aubergine. Luckily the only thing that surpasses the architecture and décor is the food itself.
We could think of a million reasons to dine here but here’s 11 to whet your appetite.
1. Mouth-watering menu
Head chef John Paul Leake brings experience from Marco Pierre White’s ‘Mirabelle’ restaurant, the world-renowned two Michelin Star restaurant The Square and the elegant Orrery, all in London.
The Great Room menus are inspired by his expertise in French cuisine as well as his passion for Northern Ireland produce. Dishes include delights such as Portavogie Cod Fillets with black garlic, leeks and oak smoked sweetcorn and Lough Erne Lamb Saddle with asparagus, violet artichokes, Grelot onions, taggiasca olives and navarin sauce. Not one to rest on his laurels, John Paul usually changes the menu every two months and creates a daily special.
We are feeling hungry all of a sudden.
2. Top rate experience
Just last month, The Merchant became the first and only hotel in Northern Ireland to receive five AA Red Stars and it now joins an elite group of only 50 hotels in the whole of the UK that have achieved the esteemed title. The restaurant also has two AA Rosettes, awarded for innovation and technical skill.
3. Sumptuous surroundings
Few restaurants in Europe can match the splendour The Great Room. Housed in the vaulted banking hall of the converted 1860s Ulster Bank building in the Cathedral Quarter, no expense was spared in restoring the listed building.
Stepping inside is like stepping back in time with perfectly preserved Victorian architecture including a stunning glass dome, intricate decoration, red velvet and live piano every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
4. Breaking records
The Great Room is home to Ireland’s largest chandelier, commissioned from Tyrone Crystal during the hotel’s restoration in 2006. The lavish piece is two stories in height and constructed with over 2,600 pieces of crystal on a gilded gold metalwork frame, all suspended from the glass dome.
5. Iconic traditions
Traditional Afternoon Tea in the Great Room has become such an institution in Belfast that the restaurant no longer serves its lunch menu on Saturdays and instead offers its renowned Afternoon Tea experience until 4pm. Serving around 22,000 Teas per year, there is only one other hotel in the whole of the UK that exceeds this number.
The elegant experience is presented in a traditional manner with homemade scones bursting with cream and jam, delicious cakes and pastries from the pastry chef and delicate finger sandwiches, all served on a silver tea stand. Also included is an extensive menu of teas or if you are celebrating, you can add an extra special touch by ordering champagne on the side.
6. Menus for all
The Great Room has no fewer than nine menus, designed to suit all tastes and budgets including breakfast, lunch, vegetarian and a children’s menu. The good news is that a fine dining experience doesn’t have to break the bank with an excellent value mid-week set menu available for just £18.50 for two courses.
7. Splashing out
If you are planning a special evening, there’s no better treat than The Great Room’s nine-course tasting menu. The current offering starts with a bite sized amuse-bouche and continues with crab, ravioli, scallops, sorbet, halibut or beef, cheese, parfait, before being completed with tea and coffee served with petit fours. The experience can be combined with wines and is truly an experience not to be missed for food lovers.
8. Buying local
Local produce is at the heart of the kitchen and the Great Room’s chefs take great pride in working with producers to source sustainable and where possible, organic products. On the menu is Glenarm beef, cheese from Newtownards and pork from Co Armagh. Not to skimp on detail, the tiny grains of sea salt used in the food are harvested from the scenic shores of Achill Island in Co. Mayo. The restaurant’s preference towards Achill Island Sea Salt is not only down to its local provenance but also the quality of the product which the chefs consider to be the best in the world.
9. Around the world
Each year the senior kitchen team step out of the kitchen in search of new and exciting products. On occasion the chefs travel further afield to find the prefect ingredient such as the creamy and luxurious Valrhona chocolate from Tain-l’Hermitage in France, used in the hotel’s lunch, dinner and Afternoon Tea treats.
To find out more behind the scenes info check out The Merchant’s Season online magazine seasonmagazine.website/season-magazine
10. Champagne, cocktails and wine
The Merchant is the exclusive Northern Ireland home of one of the world’s most sought after champagnes, Ruinart. With its delicate, fresh and fruity taste, it is the oldest champagne brand in the world, dating back to 1729. Guests at the luxury hotel consume around 1,600 bottles of Ruinart per year, which equates to approximately 8,000 flutes of champagne. If stacked on top of each other, the flutes would climb six times the height of the Eiffel tower.
The bar also offers an extensive list of cocktails, an excellent wine list, unique Irish coffee and the much talked about Water Menu with a handpicked selection of the world’s purest waters.
11. One-off experiences
Each year, the Great Room Restaurant offers diners the chance to sample one-off menus for a luxurious experience. In the past these have included dining with celebrity chefs, Italian food served in honour of the Giro d’Italia and a Hennessy inspired dinner to mark the cognac brand’s 250 anniversary.
The next experience will be an Opera dinner in February. Guests will arrive to a drinks reception with canapes before indulging in a six course meal with wines to accompany each course. Opera singers will entertain guests on arrival, between courses and during the grand finale. Keep your eyes peeled for this one as the date is still to be announced.